Thailand : Trade Balance, Exports and Imports (2019)
Historically, maybe a bit surprising for some, Thailand had a negative trade balance with the rest of the world, for a big chunk the time. If a positive trade balance is present, it remains relatively small (see period between 2001-2019)
Of course, if not for crude oil imports, the trade balance would be positive most if not all of the time. This applies to a lot of other countries as well.
Notice the striking trade deficits in the 1995-2000 period. This is around the 1997 Asian economic crisis, which started off in Thailand. I remember reading at the time preceding the crisis, that the country was importing a lot of 'capital goods', which was reportedly a good thing. Obviously too much of a good thing, turned out to be bad later on.
In 2014, there was a tiny trade deficit recorded of about 380 million U.S. Dollar. In 2015, the trade balance was positive by about 11.72 billion U.S. Dollar, which can be explained kind of completely by the drop in value of imported crude oil and oil products. 2016 saw a larger positive trade balance of 20.66 billion U.S. Dollar. However, total trade (import+exports) decreased during 2016 from 417 to 410 billion U.S. Dollar (-1.68%), which throughout the year appeared worrying to the Thai authorities. 2017 saw a persistence of the current trend with a positive trade balance of 13.93 billion U.S. Dollar.
Up to August 2018, there was a positive trade balance of 23.6 billion U.S. Dollar (with significantly increased exports). Likely this would result in a positive trade balance of close to 30 billion U.S. Dollar, which would be the highest in history.
However, towards the end of 2018, there was a less than satisfactory development in Thai exports, and the trade balance ended positively by 'only' 4.756 billion U.S. Dollar. Thailand imported a total value of 27.799 billion U.S. dollar in crude oil, which was close to 8 billion U.S. dollar more than in 2017, which explains a great part of the lesser positive trade balance.
Total imports in 2018 had a value of 248.20 billiion U.S. Dollar and total exports a value of 252.96 billion U.S. Dollar.
2019, the latest complete year for which data are available, saw a more positive trade balance of Thailand with the rest of the world. However total trade decreased. Imports lowered from the previous year to 236.64 billion U.S. Dollar, exports lowered from the previous year to 246.24 billion U.S. Dollar. This was the year of the trade tensions between U.S. and China, which had complicated effects on trade around the world. While total trade decreased in 2019, the positive trade balance increased to 9.756 billion U.S Dollar.
Trade Balance Thailand-Rest of the World 1991-2019
Total exports from Thailand by value in 2019 amounted to 249.244 billion U.S. Dollar.
Below are listed the most important export products by value in U.S Dollar for 2019.:
Car exports, including accessories and parts, motorcycles, are main export products from Thailand. The country was listed as 12th in the list of countries with the highest car (including commercial vehicles) production in 2014.
Computer related products (automatic data processing, electronic integrated circuits), as well as chemical products (when including ethylene and propylene) are major export products.
However, compared to 2018, there were decreases in exports of ethylene and propylene (and similar products) by 11%, of refined fuels by 21.1% and other chemical products by 17.3%.
Rubber and rubber products feature large, Thailand being the prime rubber producer in the world.
Jewelry and precious stones (after a lesser year in 2018) saw a substantial increase of exports by 30.9%.
The value of rice exports (many people work in this sector!) decreased by 25.89 % compared to 2018.
A substantial increase occurred also in fresh, frozen and dried fruits.( by 37.3%). We understand there is a huge market for these products in China. You can notice the appetite for dried fruits (mango the most relevant) in Thai supermarkets, where a lot is sold, not in the least to Chinese tourists (at least before the Corona virus came about).
Exported Products from Thailand, 2019
Asean countries (Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Brunei) take the largest chunk out of Thai exports. In a second group : China, U.S.A., all of Europe, and Japan, are of almost equal importance).
Interestingly, the value of exports to the U.S.A. increased by 11.78 % from 28.04 to 31.34 billion U.S. Dollar. Hopefully the U.S. administration will see no reason to impose sanctions on Thailand.
The value of exports to China decreased modestly by 3.78 % from 30.32 to 29.17 billion U.S. Dollar. As a result U.S.A. became the most important export market for Thailand during 2019.
The value of exports to Japan decreased slightly by 1.52 % to 24.56 billion U.S. Dollars.
The value of exports to Europe increased by 4.07 % from 29.12 to 30.33 billion U.S. Dollars.
Most strikingly the value of exports to the 'local' market, ASEAN, decreased substantially by 8.08 % from 68.44 to 62.91 billion U.S. Dollar. As expected, ASEAN remains the most important global trading partner for both exports and imports.
Export destination of Thai products, 2019
Thailand imported goods valued at 221.52 billion U.S. Dollars in 2017. This was much higher than in 2016, when imports into Thailand reached 194.67 billion U.S. Dollar.(+11.4%). In 2018, the value of imported goods increased further to 248.20 billion U.S. Dollar (+12.05%).
In 2019 there was a modest decrease in the value of imports into Thailand. The reached 236.64 billion U.S. Dollars.
Imported goods into Thailand :
Imported crude oil (as in many countries) is very important for the Thai economy. By value it is also the largest item among Thai imports. In 2019 crude oil, valued at 21.54 billion U.S. Dollar was imported, which was however much lower than the value imported in 2018 at 26.90 billion U.S. Dollar (-19.92 %).
A trend of higher oil prices persisted until the first half of 2018, but was reversed during the second half of the year. This trend persisted during 2019, and likely will further persist during 2020 with the corona virus crisis.
General machinery, parts and electrical machinery are, as before, important imported productions by value in 2019.
Gold and silver interestingly, are one of the most important items. All the gold shops you see around Bangkok and Thailand, have to be provided with their gold, since Thailand has only a very limited own production. Nevertheless, the value of imports decreased by no less than 25.88 % to 11.03 billion U.S. Dollar.
Household appliances, despite all the imported goods one sees on sale in the department stores, are a relatively minor post. It is dwarfed by all the industrial goods such as machinery, iron, steel, chemicals, computers, etc.
Also relevant is the minor contribution of medicines (in 2019 at 3.33 billion U.S. dollar). This despite the fact that there are quite a few top medical facilities and a very prominent medical tourism industry.
It reflects the fact that health expenditure in Thailand overall is still very low.
Interestingly, munitions at 2.60 billion U.S. Dollar featured prominently. This was much higher than in previous years, so the Thai military much have made major purchases during 2019.
When compared with the list of 2018 (the imported items typically do not change much from year to year), the import of airplanes disappeared from the 20 top items. We understand there is a tendency to lease, and not to buy airplanes, and this may be the explanation.
Value of imported Goods into Thailand, 2019.
The U.S.A. (when compared to its importance as an export market for Thai goods), is of relatively less importance as an exporter to Thailand. Imports from the U.S.A. increased by 23.45% during 2017, so hopefully, the present U.S. administration will be sufficiently satisfied by this 'improvement'. Further imports during 2018 did not really materialize though, with only a slight 2 % increase. Then, again in 2019 there was a substantial increase in the value of imports from the U.S. at 17.31 billion U.S. Dollar (+15.6 % compared to 2018)
For total trade, China has become the most important (and the largest) trading partner of Thailand. Imports from China increase by about 13 % in 2018. In 2019 the increase was modest (+1 %) but when over the threshold of 50 billion U.S. Dollar.
During 2018, oil exporting countries from the Middle East (U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Qatar) increased the value of their exports to Thailand. Interestingly, 'small' Switzerland exports relatively (compare to other European countries) a lot to Thailand. During 2019, while they still feature among the most important trading partners, the Middle Eastern countries exported crude oil at lower prices in 2019.
ASEAN is the second most important import source for Thailand, but less goods are imported from the whole of ASEAN, than from China. Imports in value from ASEAN decreased by 8.13 % to 41.49 billion U.S. Dollar.
Imports from Japan and from the whole of Europe decreased by 5.8 % and 4.8 % respectively.
Origin of Imports into Thailand, 2019
Trade balance with major trading blocks and partners :
Thailand has substantial trade deficits with both China and Japan. There is also a substantial Thai-Japanese industry, exporting to the world from Thailand.
Thailand has a substantial trade surplus with the ASEAN countries and with the U.S.A. Trade with Europe is well balanced in 2019.
While the numbers change sometimes a bit, the trade balances as figured below have persisted for many years in a row now.
Resources : Data are somewhat better presented than before on this new website provided by the Ministry of Commerce